Surprising Teaching (Luke 6:17-26)

Nothing is ever the same after Jesus-talk gets in your brain.  When he preached on that hillside, as reported in Luke’s gospel, and began with “Blessed are you who are poor” there must have been more than a few taking those words out into the Roman Empire. The church later spread those words, upending the way people thought the world worked.  “Blessed are you who are hungry now, and who weep now, for everything will change.”  These words burned in the hearts of many in the ensuing centuries  These words that instigated change with an emphasis on the marginalized and the outcasts and those excluded from the great and powerful rooms where important decisions get made.  These words grew from the bottom of society not from the top.  Jesus knew that change happens from the bottom up, not from the top down.

If we are going to really call into being “A Just World for All” then we need to start preaching to the bottom from the bottom. Take racism, for example. Take it as an example of something woven into our world that creates suffering to benefit others. Jesus said blessed are those on the bottom; not blessed are those who oppress and stigmatize. The unraveling of the sin of racism begins in Jesus words getting inside our brains so that the world will never be the same.

A group of young people, ages 11-24, met this summer for a week in the basement of Bethany UCC in Seattle, Washington. They met there to learn and talk about dismantling racism for the sake of the world. For 17 years, this pop-up social justice program has spread the word so that we, as a nation, might absolve our past by inoculating the present with visions of an aspirational nation. An aspirational vision that believes Jesus’ words about hope.

Those words reorder our perceptions of the poor and move us from blaming poverty on individuals. It lifts our eyes to see the systemic forces that keep people on the bottom. Forces like lack of health care, poor education, stagnant wages, racism, segregation, lack of affordable housing and more. When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are poor,” believe him and let those words get inside your brain so they might change the world. What action can you take to fight for the powerless?

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A Surprising Catch (Luke 5:1-11)

Apparently, being the church is not all potlucks and Bible study, Christmas bazaars and picnics, preaching and marching for justice.  Apparently, according to Luke’s Gospel, it’s also about deep-sea fishing.  That is, very specifically, deep water fishing.  If you want to catch a lot of fish then you must put your nets out into deep water.  Of course, the fish Luke is talking about are not mackerel and blue fin tuna, they are people.  They are the people Luke envisions coming from all part sot he world to worship in Jerusalem and come to understand God through the person of Jesus Christ.

What does it mean in your community for your church to put its “nets” out into deep waters?

Our denomination is casting our evangelical nets more broadly and effectively through reorganization. The united Church of Christ is hope that by combining some of its offices we will be able to spread the good news of the UCC in a way tha will benefit the local church.  We have launched a newly organized team called OPTIC.

OPTIC is the Office of Philanthropy, Technology, Identity and Communication.  We believe that combining our communications and marketing with philanthropy and technology will enable the casting of our nets into deeper waters.  Our denomination believes that there are people out there waiting to see our vision, hear our voice and understand the wide-welcome and just-world creating church that is the UCC.  Finding these audiences, developing them and welcoming them into our churches is what this new team is about.

One of the  many initiatives of this new team is to work closely with those planning the next General Synod. The newly minted “Shine” logo is part of that work.  There will be roll- outs of innovative resources for local congregations and an attention to how we can put our collective nets into deeper waters.  After all, the church is called to grow and to call disciples, not simply to exist.  Our passion for spreading the good news is as deep as our belief in a God who offers an extravagant welcome and longs for us to live in a Just World for All–where love of neighbor, love of children and love of creation are woven into the net cast for all of us in the UCC.

Look at ucc.org for word of what is happening with your OPTIC team and see the new logo for General Synod 2019.

 

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What If. . .

What if we began to treat our Bibles the way we treat our cell phones?

What if we. . .

–carried it with us everywhere?

–turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

–checked it for messages throughout the day?

–used it in case of an emergency?

–spent an hour or more using it each day?

 

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The Seasons of Life

There was a man who had four sons.  He wanted his sons to learn to not judge things too quickly. So, he sent them each on a quest, in turn, to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.  The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest son in the fall.

When they had gone and come back, the man called his sons together to describe what they had seen. The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted. The second son said no–it was covered with green buds and full of promise. The third son disagreed; he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, that it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen. The last son disagreed with all of them.  He said the tree was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment.

The man then explained to his sons that they were all correct because they each had seen but one season in the life of the tree. He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are–and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life–can only be measured at the end when all the seasons are over.

If you give up with it is winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, and the fulfillment of your fall.  Do not judge a life by one difficult season, and do not let the pain of the one season destroy the joy of all the rest of your seasons.

Pastor Carol

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Community Chili Cook-Off February 20

The third annual Community Chili Cook-Off is planned from Wednesday, February 20, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Bluffton Middle School Cafetorium.  Samples of each entry are available for $5.00; additional concessions are available, as well.

Congregations may cook their special recipe chili and serve samples; organize donations and sales of concessions; assist with set-up and tear-down for the event; promote and attend the event; share talents by performing during the event; bring canned/boxed food items for the Bluffton Community Food Pantry.

Eight area churches participated in 2018.  Let’s try to raise the number this year.

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Prophet on the Edge (Luke 4:21-30)

Jesus, the young Jesus, has just returned home and preaches his first sermon in his home synagogue.  He reads scripture and says little. Yet, something he says makes the people in that synagogue that day so angry that they want to throw him off a cliff.  What made those first century worship attenders so enraged that preacher-cide was on their minds?

What Jesus did was suggest that their God, the God of the Old Testament, often spoke to non-Israelites, like the Syrian Naaman and the widow of Zarepath.  His listeners were not happy to think that God was God to others as well as themselves. Of course, this is not just a first century idea.  We humans have often fashioned God into ourselves.  We are heirs of a tradition that has historically claimed God as Western European.  Imagine a God that speaks Spanish, or Urdu, or Quechua.  That is God–still speaking, and not necessarily in English.  How do we, as congregations, open ourselves to a multilingual God?  How do we deepen our relationship with that God of all people?  One way is to become an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation.

Just as churches became Open and Affirming and grew spiritually in their understanding of who God includes, welcoming those culturally different from us and listening to how God speaks to them in their traditions expands our understanding of God and of ourselves as human beings.  It all begins in the Bible, a book that some have called the immigrants handbook because so many of its stories are about immigrants.  Its stories teach about welcoming strangers and foreigners and how such relationships deepen people’s connection with God.

Your church can do more than Bible study on this issue.  Some churches reach out to immigrant communities and churches, and plan programs to share food, and culture and ministries.  Some congregations read books, take trips, watch videos and listen to the stories of immigrants in their communities.  Getting to know this changing world and letting in those who are different is all part of God’s plan for the world.  A world made of many kinds of people from many nations.  All of us are born a life created by the same God.  All of us are trying to make a Just World.

If you want to know more go to ucc.org and search for becoming an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation.  It’s time we all did this.  God has called us to open our hearts to the stranger.  God has called us to welcome the foreigner in our midst.  It’s part of being the church.  It’s yet another way to show your love of neighbor.

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This Week at St. John’s UCC

Centering Words for February 17:  God of blessings and woes, bless us this day with lives filled with love, caring, generosity, and deep, abiding hope. We pray that your kingdom will dwell among all people and that we may be instruments of your love and your grace. Open our hearts with the joy of healing a world filled with brokenness and pain. Amen.

Sunday, February 17–Worship 1030 a.m.; Pastor Carol’s meditation is titled “Tough Words to Swallow”, and is based on Luke 6:17-26.  The choir will sing “Each and Every Day” by Jay Althouse.  The Board of Christian Education meets following worship.  A time of fellowship takes place in Oppermann Hall after worship.

Monday, February 18–Vacation Bible School organizational meeting, 7 p.m. at St. John’s UCC

Tuesday, February 19–Ladies meet at LuLu’s, 9 a.m.; TOPS, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, February 20–Men meet at Arby’s, 8:30 a.m.; Excellence in Ministry pastoral group meets, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Chili cook-off, 5:30 to 7 p.m.; choir rehearsal, 7 p.m.

Thursday, February 21–Walk Day at Bluffton Elementary; Community meal at the Senior Center, 6 p.m.

Coming Events

Friday, February 22–SHANNON community garage sale and chicken BBQ, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 23–Community garage sale at the Centre

Sunday, February 24–Consistory meets after worship

 

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Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen

If you would like to volunteer for helping serve at Our Daily Bread soup kitchen in Lima on Tuesday, January 22 and March 26, 2019,  please sign up on the bulletin board in the sanctuary.  Helpers are always welcome.

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Facebook Page

You are missing out on a super way to advertise our church if you are not sharing with many of your other Facebook friends St. John’s Facebook page.  There are many interesting articles posted every day.  “Friend” all of your friends and ask them to “Like” the St. John’s page–let’s let people know we are here, alive, and moving forward!

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St Johns Snow

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